Research Fields

  • Political Economy and Development Economics
  • Industrial Organization
  • Econometrics
  • Economic History
  • Macroeconomics

Does Raising Police Salaries Lower Petty Corruption? A Policy Experiment on West African Highways (with Jeremy Foltz) (2020). [International Growth Centre Working Paper].  Policy Solutions to Combat Corruption, London School of Economics Connect Magazine, Seeker: A Discovery Digital Network, Seeker Daily, The Economist, Cherokee Gothic, World Bank Africa Can End Poverty Blog, African Development Bank Evaluation Matters

In one of the most ambitious public sector reform experiments in Africa, the Ghana government doubled its police officer salaries in 2010 in part to mitigate petty corruption on its roads, while leaving salaries for other officials unchanged. Neighboring countries in the West African region left their police salaries unchanged. Using unique data on bribes paid from over 2,100 truck trips in West Africa and representing over 45,000 bribe opportunities, we evaluate impacts of higher police salaries on petty corruption using a difference-in-difference method that exploits the exogenous policy experiment. By following bribes paid by the same trucks in different countries as well as to different civil servants in Ghana we identify whether salaries affect the effort to seek bribes, their value and the total amount paid by truckers. Rather than decrease petty corruption, the salary policy significantly increased the police efforts to collect bribes, the value of bribes and the amounts given to truck drivers to policemen in total. Robustness checks show the higher bribe efforts and amounts are stable across alternative specifications.

Computational Ethics (with Edmond Awad, Sydney Levine, Michael Anderson, Susan Leigh Anderson, Vincent Conitzer, M. J. Crockett, Jim A.C. Everett, Theodoros Evgeniou, Alison Gopnik, Julian C. Jamison, Tae Wan Kim, S. Matthew Liao, Michelle N. Meyer, John Mikhail, Jana Schaich Borg, Juliana Schroeder, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Marija Slavkovik, and Josh B. Tenenbaum). Trends in Cognitive Sciences, forthcoming.

Econometric Causal Inference for Computer Vision: Image Natural Experiments Inspired by the Economic and Social Sciences (2021). Beyond Fairness: Towards a Just, Equitable, and Accountable Computer Vision. 2021 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR ’21) Workshop, June 19-25, 2021.

Predicting Petroleum Fields in Ethnic Regions with Social and Economic Data: Evidence from Africa (Poster) (2021). COMPASS ’21: ACM SIGCAS Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies (COMPASS), Virtual Event, Australia, June 2021.

Deep learning and the development economics of natural resources.

Scaling Up Peer Education with Farmers in India (2017). (with Bhaumik Shah and Tapan S. Parikh). Proceedings of the Ninth IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information Technologies and Communication for Development (ICTD ’17), 15: 1-15. November 16-19

Indian farmers are better at predicting other farmers’ listening habits on social media than data-driven message targeting.

Encountering Poverty: Thinking and Acting in an Unequal World (2016). (with Ananya Roy, Genevieve Negrón-Gonzales, and Clare Talwalker). University of California Press.

In Modeling Poverty, development economists listen to economic models to change the world.

Mobilizing Impact Evaluations: Mobile Survey Micro-Experiments for Sustainable Development (2015). Evaluation Matters, (3rd Quarter), 24-29. in Emerging Solutions to Development Challenges, Volume 1. African Development Bank Group. UC Berkeley News Media Blum Center for Developing EconomiesCALIFORNIA MagazineBORGEN Magazine

Mobile phone surveys can help policy makers in Africa understand their citizens.

Upload:  Race, Financial Misconduct and the Customer-Value Economics of the Firm 

This paper investigates racial bias in bank consumer complaints across the US financial industry and evaluates the first database policy for financial product complaints. The incidence of financial complaints often exhibits a sharp change when white people become the majority group. I find significant selection in how companies responded to the database policy experiment. However, I find a correlation between exposing financial companies with responding to complaints with relief. Comparing credit card complaints with credit reporting complaints provides more convincing causal evidence, although race seems not to be a mechanism. The findings empirically support the customer-value theory of the firm. 

Sports Championships and Farmer Productivity Spillovers in Ghana

One small fishing community in Ghana has produced a world boxing champion for the country every decade since the 1970s. World boxing competitions are widely covered on radio, reaching 90% of the country. In these cases, do sports affect rural agricultural productivity by enhancing sentiments of national patriotism? Using comprehensive microdata on rural agricultural productivity and radio access, I find evidence consistent with the argument that sporting events can enhance workplace productivity. 

Political Economy of Conflict

Innocent until Stereotyped Guilty? Terrorism and US Immigration Court Decisions  (2020). (with Justice Tei Mensah). reject-and-resubmit, Journal of Human Capital [OSF Working Paper] Stanford Institute for Theoretical Economics (SITE), 2nd Geospatial Analysis for International Development, CEGA, UC Berkeley 

Domestic terrorist attacks (where the attacker is not a foreigner) caused judges in the US immigration court system to deny asylum applications, suggesting that stereotypes can actually be powerful enough to affect legal decisions even when they are not relevant.

Econometrics and Causal Inference 

Real-time Causal Inference (2018). 

The paper connects the Rubin Causal Model to real-time data streams common in software engineering architectures, where experiments occur under dynamic treatment thresholds. A Secondary Problem of Causal Inference is introduced.

Statistical Causal Inference with Topological Data Analysis (2020)

Integrating causal inference with TDA for mutual benefit.

Deep Learning and Differences-in-Differences

Deep learning for program evaluations.

Economics for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (2019) detailed proposal requested, Nature Machine Intelligence. (in progress)

I argue that to better understand how to overcome the constraints in using AI to augment human capacities, artificial intelligence researchers should look to economics, which has focused on institutional behavior in a rich literature. I focus on the positive implication on three constraints algorithms face: fairness, transparency and ethics.

Economics of Research Transparency

Using Blockchain for Scientific Transparency (2017).

US Department of Energy Advanced Scientific Computing Research Workshop on Cybersecurity and Privacy for Scientific Computing Ecosystems, American Academy for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting Symposium

Trusted timestamping can help make social science research more transparent.

Time-Inconsistency and Research Replications: Overcoming Quasi-Hyperbolic Discounting with Prereplication Plans (2018).  An Urgency for Evidence and Transparency in Economic Analysis and Policy Conference 2017, Association for Integrity and Responsible Leadership in Economics and Associated Professions (AIRLEAP)  Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences Blog, Development Lunch Seminar, Department of Economics, December 12, 2017, UC Berkeley

Like original authors, replicators may place more weight on transparency in the present than in the future. A replication is a graph of code and results that is time-inconsistent when schadenfreude impulses overturn a published result. A proposed commitment device is a dynamic generalization of a static preanalysis plan.

Blockchain and the Scientific Method (2021) (with James A. Evans, Krishna Ratakonda, Kush R. Varshney, and Lav R. Varshney) in Position Papers for the ASCR Workshop on Cybersecurity and Privacy for Scientific Computing Ecosystems, Eds. Stacy Prowell, David Manz, Candace Culhane, Sheikh Ghafoor, Martine Kalke, Kate Keahey, Celeste Matarazzo, Chris Oehmen, Sean Peisert, and Ali Pinar. United States. doi:10.2172/1843573.

Works in progress

The Behavioral Economics of Research Transparency (2017).

A commitment device for economists that place more weight on transparency in the present than they do in the future.

Meta-Analysis Plans and Research Transparency (2019).

American Academy for the Advancement of Science Press Conference, Eureka Alert/American Academy for the Advancement of Science,, Science Daily, Verdict, Science & Enterprise

Accelerating and sharing meta-analysis plans.

Political Economy and Behavioral Economics

Empathy and Information Asymmetries  [Working Paper][SSRN Working Paper]

Original version: October 2016 (previous title: “Perspective Coordination: Empathy and Information Asymmetries) [SocArXiv Preprint]

 I introduce and solve a class of information asymmetries problems in which agents have uncoordinated perspectives of objective information. I first present a primitive of literal perspective frames: coordinate systems through which agents view phenomena based on their individualized and unique experiences. In the model, the transformation of coordinate systems from one perspective to another represents empathy. Changing perspective frames as described resembles conducting experiments, but on topological data. I extend topological data analysis to randomized controlled trials by introducing the existence and estimation of average treatment effects in topological data environments. The settings imply that being embedded in significantly varying topology is a unique reason why different individuals might update beliefs differently when faced with an identical statistical experiment. For similar topological reasons, the provided average treatment effects may not be externally valid when other metrics and computational topological environments are analyzed. Collectively, the findings have implications for behavioral aspects of experimentation and research transparency issues. 

Behavioral International Policy: The Psychological Gravity of Economic Development [SSRN Working Paper] [PsyArXiv Preprint] [SocArXiv Preprint]  UC Berkeley News Media Blum Center for Developing EconomiesCALIFORNIA MagazineBORGEN Magazine

How can people be encouraged to discuss controversial but worthwhile subjects? Randomized controlled trials based on human-computer interactions provide a novel mechanism for quantifying how attracted people feel to their localized preferences for governance, sanitation, health and related international development issues.

Narcissism over Ideology: Revealed versus Stated Terrorist Preferences [SSRN Working Paper] [SocArXiv Preprint]

Original submitted version: November 2016

What preferences motivate the severity of terrorist attacks? I investigate how Boko Haram terrorists adjust their fatalities when unexpectedly deprived of public attention, relative to Al Shabaab terrorists, that were not deprived of public attention. Losing public attention raises the severity of terrorism: Boko Haram terrorist fatalities surged following the rebasing of Nigeria’s economy, which catapulted the country into Africa’s largest and the top twenty-five worldwide. The largest spike in Boko Haram terrorist fatalities occurred in the wake of the Nigerian Ebola health crisis. Although Boko Haram claims an anti-education sentiment, their fatalities do not actually differ significantly from Al Shabaab fatalities during the Nigerian national basic education examination or during Ramadan. Given extremists’ vulnerable self-concepts, emphasizing revealed relative preferences may undermine terrorist credibility and recruitment.

Social Science Can Develop Startups for Development [SocArXiv Preprint

Like the mobile phone revolution before it, startups in developing economies are taking scholarship by surprise. Social science can help unpack the next-generation of economic development in Africa.

Time-Inconsistency and Randomized Controlled Trials 

I introduce a general randomized controlled trial approach where study participants have time-inconsistent preferences that significantly affect selection into randomized treatment groups. I show how preferences are manipulated to become more consistent over time, so that an agent places increasing weights on the present relative to the future. By acknowledging and correcting for time-inconsistency and related self-control problems, the proposed trials generate clearer information than standard randomized and selective trials. The laws of large numbers are compromised by significantly time-inconsistent environments. To minimize this issue, I introduce behavioral laws of large numbers.  I close with various policy implications.

Industrial Organization

Economies of Score [SSRN Working Paper]

Original version: March 2016. (Preliminary, do not cite: Updated version coming soon).

To introduce a novel generalization of economies of scope, the paper develops a theory of average cost reductions based on enabling products to have multiple features or functions. The process is labelled economies of score. Focusing production costs on the finer detail of product features can lead to more significant average cost reductions relative to standard economies of scope and scale. The embedding of secondary features into a product with a primary feature is a network graph represented with a binary decision diagram to model product feature integration for each product within a firm. A feature equilibrium is defined. Some evidence suggests that the approach is relevant for describing smartphone-app industrial organization.

Matching Markets, Self-Control and the Firm

Original version: January 2013. (Preliminary, do not cite: Updated version coming soon).

Economic History

Coming to America

Tracing post-independence African migration to the United States as well as economic and political impacts.

Peace in Africa: International Migration and the Phenomenon of Ghana 

Ghana is one of the most peaceful countries in the world and has not experienced a civil conflict in its modern history. This occurred in spite of consistent and significant military and economic instability in the post-independence era. Ghana experienced these political developments with the aid of institutional dynamism and an experimental policy mindset exemplified in formal-informal hybrid chieftancy and queen-mother political systems, however, these are only part of the model discussed in this article. In this paper, I suggest that the absence of political conflict in Ghana is, somewhat ironically, traceable to migration trends from African countries that did experience conflict–such migrations have had subtle but significant linguistic and sociocultural impacts on Ghanaians themselves as evidenced by spillover effects in various sectors. I contextualize standard economic and political policy factors led by various Ghanaian governments into migration waves that predate and, I argue, are even more salient and resonant than the Pan-African policy initiatives of Presidents Nkrumah and Rawlings. Mobile telephony has only heightened migrations and the international interactions that paradoxically breed tolerance among Ghanaians of different ethnicities. Simple natural experiments corroborate the presented evidence while raising uncomfortable policy dilemmas.

Black Wall Street

The origins and consequences of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Wagon-Wheel Effects 

Ocular illusions can create behavioral biases in macroeconomic analyses.

Do Experiments Give the Economy Butterflies? Randomized Controlled Microfoundations

Everyday human interactions within and across sectors generate small-scale experiments that scale up in a Keynesian framework.

The Behavioral Economics of Product Design for Users in  Developing Countries 

Using behavioral economics to improve product design for new technology users

Central Validity and Feasibility Inference

Development Impact Lab 2016 State of the Science Conference, UC Berkeley.

The paper focuses on external validity in practice: anticipating the degree to which consequent related treatments would be feasible in new contexts.

A Filtering Approach for Experimenting with Remote Sensing: Evidence from Satellite Data

Economic Vegetarianism

The Computer Science of Kente: Cloth Weaving as Programming Language

Information Technology and the Global Fight against Health Poverty

Mobile Money: Evidence from Kenya

State Capacity Adoption: Experimental Evidence from Mobile Innovation in Ghana

(A)moral Hazard in Mobile Health

Policy makers are hopeful that mobile health  can improve health outcomes in developing countries. I find evidence of a unique form of moral hazard with respect to mobile health technologies.

Pipe Dreams? Oil in Ghana

Information Asymmetries, Savings and Credit (with Jeremy Foltz).

Gender Bias in Informal Financial Institutions: Evidence from Susu Collection in Ghana (with Jeremy Foltz)

Empowering women can lessen gender bias in deposit collection.

Low-Intensity Conflict and Schooling Outcomes: Evidence from Uganda (with Jeremy Foltz)

A Self-Control Agency Conflict

Bandwagons: Theory and Evidence (in progress)